Entertainment And News

Publishers Clearing House Confirms The Truth About Ed McMahon 'Mandela Effect'

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Ed McMahon

I may not be old, but I'm old enough to remember when Ed McMahon and the Publishers Clearing House (PCH) Prize Patrol would show up on people's door steps to deliver them Big Checks for large cash prizes they'd won in the PCH sweepstakes.

Or, at least, old enough to think I remember what seems to actually be the kind of false memory people refer to these days as a Mandela Effect.

For those of you who don't know (or perhaps don't remember?), the Mandela Effect is a phenomenon in which large groups of people share the same collective false memory. The concept was named after Nelson Mandela when many people who thought he had died in the 1980s found out he passed away in 2013.

Some examples of the Mandela Effect are harder to dispute than others. Curious George moved around so much, who can remember whether or not the cute little guy had a tail.

But if you ask pretty much any other Millennial or Gen Xer which sweepstakes Ed McMahon worked for in the 1980s or 1990s (and I have asked many), the answer will be easy: Publishers Clearing House.

Most of us clearly remember getting forms in the mail from Publishers Clearing House, which any adult could fill out and submit to be entered in a random drawing for the chance to win anywhere from $1,000 to several million dollars. The "free-to-play, chance-to-win propositions" were extremely enticing, especially when we thought there was a chance McMahon himself would show up on our door with a check.

Except, apparently, we're all wrong about that last part.



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You see, I was today years old when I received a press release from Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol deputy Howie Guja, announcing that they were about to surprise New Yorker Wesley Autrey — who some may know as the "Subway Samaritan", "Subway Superman", "The Hero of Harlem" and/or "Subway Hero" — with roses, balloons champagne and a brand new Ford Bronco as the result of his winning a random PCH drawing.

Unfortunately, I was too late to the email to be able to cover their event, but I did take the opportunity to ask the horse's mouth my burning question:

Did Ed McMahon work for Publishers Clearing House, delivering Big Checks with the PCH Prize Patrol?

While I was confident Publishers Clearing House would affirm my (admittedly graying) memory to be correct, alas, that was not the case.

Within minutes, I received this response from PCH Prize Patrol Co-Founder Dave Sayer:

"Contrary to popular belief, Ed McMahon was never affiliated with Publishers Clearing House. He worked for a competitor, American Family Publishers, which is no longer in business."


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SVP/Creative for Publishers Clearing House and co-creator of the Prize Patrol Todd Sloane also shared the following:

"Here are the facts. Ed McMahon never worked for Publishers Clearing House and he never surprised winners at their homes. There is not one piece of video that shows Ed saying the words 'Publishers Clearing House' or surprising any real sweepstakes winners for Publishers Clearing House (or any other sweepstakes company). To the contrary, there are tons of commercials showing that he worked for American Family Publishers and appeared in these commercials on a set with people who had already been told that they won that sweepstakes (no surprise knocks on doors). When Ed says 'he has personally awarded millions of dollars' that just means he met the winners on a commercial set months after they had been told they won and congratulated them.

"There are hundreds of videos for Publishers Clearing House online showing our Prize Patrol knocking on doors and surprising winners, including the famous 'Super Bowl Sunday' surprises (and again with no Ed McMahon).

"I should know, I was there for all of this."

So why do people think Ed McMahon worked for Publishers Clearing House?

To be fair to me, there is plenty of "evidence" as to why the memory of Ed McMahon working for Publishers Clearing House is so firmly embedded in the memory of those of us who watched TV in the '90s.

1. Publishers Clearing House commercials from the 1990s do show people being surprised with big checks.

But... not by McMahon.

2. There are commercials showing McMahon promoting a sweepstakes.

But... for American Family Publishers, not for Publishers Clearing House. And as though he knew this moment would come, McMahon says, "The only sweepstakes with my picture."

3. A news broadcast from that era directly references McMahon working for Publishers Clearing House.

Reporter Cynthia Ganty starts the segment saying, "Who among us hasn't seen Ed McMahon's ads for the Publishers Clearing House give away?"

That said, it is called the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes, so maybe her fact checkers were having an off night?

4. During a 1986 episode of the Golden Girls, Betty White receives what many believe is a telling phone call.

"What?" her character Rose exclaims, "I'm one of the winners of the Publishers Clearing House? Ed McMahon wants to see me right away?"

I've got no explanation for this one.

5. In 1991, Johnny Carson presented David Letterman with a Publishers Clearing House Check for $1,000,000.

"Ed would have been here," Johnny said, "but he's in Hawaii."

On another episode, Letterman joked that a poll was conducted about the reasons people don't enter the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes, saying, "The number one reason people don't enter that thing is they say a million dollars is not worth the nightmare of meeting Ed McMahon.



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6. That same year, Jerry Seinfeld appeared on Carson with a bit about the sweepstakes.

"According to the information that I have, the envelope I received, it seems that I may already have won some very valuable prizes," Seinfeld riffs. "I know Ed. I met Ed. He never mentioned anything to me about this."

Unfortunately for those who want to see this as proof however, Seinfeld himself never mentions Publishers Clearing House.

7. In 1995, McMahon appeared on Roseanne Barr's sitcom doorstep with a Big Check.

The check is not marked with any brand name, however. And PCH is not mentioned.

8. In 2007, McMahon confirmed to Tom Green that he would "actually walk up to people's door steps and give them the check."

Green specifically made mention of Publishers Clearing House, although McMahon and Green were talking over each other a bit and it could be argued that McMahon missed that detail.

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Proof Ed McMahon never worked for Publishers Clearing House

I must admit I was still a tad skeptical even after receiving an answer from the source. So Sloane was kind enough to share some examples countering those shown above.

1. In 1999, Ed McMahon corrected Jon Stewart when he mentioned Publishers Clearing House.

When McMahon appeared on The Daily Show, Stewart began with "Publishers Clearing House ... You show up with..."

McMahon cuts Stewart off mid-sentence. "No. No. American ..."

"What's Publishers Clearing House?" Stewart asks, perplexed.

McMahon answers, "That's another company. That's our rival... We're American Family Publishers. That's Ok. Craig, anybody can make a mistake."

"Do you really think, AFP would fly Ed all over the country and knock on strangers' doors unannounced? Of course not, because it would be a waste of time and money," Sloane explains further. "Having done this for many years for PCH (where the surprises are totally real -- not set ups), I can tell you there are many times the winners aren't home, live in rural hard to get to areas, etc.). That's why Ed/Dick [Clark] could never do this."

"The AFP winners were notified by phone/mail, then brought to a soundstage in the Los Angeles area where they 'met' Ed. That's how it worked. There was such confusion on Ed surprising people at their home, that in the end of his career he just went along with it."

2. During an outtake from an AFP commercial in 1994, McMahon tells Dick Clark to never say the word "Publishers."

"What's this with Publishers?" Clark asks toward the end of the joke reel.

"Publishers!?" McMahon exclaims, "Never mention Publishers around here! Are you crazy? Don't ever say that word, Dick, ever!"

3. An AFP commercial from 1987 pokes fun at all the confusion.

The voice of a confused gas station attendant is bleeped out by a horn when he mouths words "Publishers Clearing House", after which McMahon appears to confirm he works for American Family Publishers.

As for the reasons people experience the Mandela Effect in this case and others, no one is exactly sure.

Some believe the Mandela Effect is caused by "parallel universes spilling into our own," government cover-ups, social experiments, or deep fakes. Those who are aligned with such thinking use the word "residue" to describe lingering "proof" that their memories are correct like the examples above.

Others with more practical minds explain it as the result of a psychological process known as confabulation, which is "when a person with gaps in their memory is asked to remember and describe the details of a past event. Rather than responding that they do not know, the person's mind fills in missing details with confabulated memories of the event."

For his part, Sloane says, "The 'residue' from sitcoms, Johnny Carson, news reports, etc. is just false memory of people juxtaposing the two companies. I can easily understand why people are so confused and would 'swear on their life' that Ed worked for PCH, surprised winners at their homes, waiting for him to knock on Super Bowl Sunday, but it never happened and there is absolutely no evidence that would indicate otherwise. Those are the facts."

So as for our memories of McMahon, Publishers Clearing House has clearly spoken.

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Deputy Editor Arianna Jeret, MA/MSW, is a writer, former family law mediator, and recognized expert on relationships and conflict resolution. Her work has been featured in Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Yahoo, MSN, Bustle, Parents and more.